While living in Nauvoo, Illinois, the Lord revealed to the prophet Joseph Smith, "Behold, I say unto you, I have a mission in store for my servant William, and my servant Hyrum, and for them alone; and let my servant Joseph tarry at home, for he is needed. The remainder I will show unto you hereafter. Even so. Amen" (D&C 124:102).
As Latter-day Saints, when we hear the word "mission" we automatically think of getting a call to go preach the gospel somewhere in the world but this is a limited understanding of that word. The dictionary defines the word "mission" thusly: "the act or an instance of sending; a special assignment or a specific task or duty given to a person or group." Therefore, in a broader sense, a mission can be anything where someone or a group of people are sent on assignment to accomplish a specific task or to fulfill a particular duty.
In the military it is common practice to send soldiers out on missions to accomplish certain specific tasks such as infiltrating behind enemy lines to gather information and report back, or to sneak into an installation for the purpose of disabling its equipment, or to fly a bomber over a specific target with the aim of destroying it.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, young men and women are called to serve a mission, which means they are being sent on assignment to preach the gospel in a certain area of the world. But there are many other callings in the Church where people are sent out on assignment to perform a specific task or fulfill a certain duties.
For example, when a priesthood holder is called to be a home teacher, they are assigned certain families and have the duty to visit them at least once a month. Their duty includes watching over those families and helping them with any problems they have, then reporting back to their priesthood leader.
When a priesthood holder is called to be a bishop they are given the assignment to watch over all those who are living within the geographical boundaries of their ward. When someone is called to be an Elder's Quorum president, they have the specific assignment to watch over the spiritual and temporal needs of those families in their quorum. Although we don't refer to these callings as a "mission," in reality, that's what they are.
But these missions are temporary or limited assignments that usually last for just a short period of time and then we are released from them and someone else is then called to take over fulfilling that specific assignment. But there are other missions that can last a lifetime.
For example, it has been said that once a father, always a father. When a man marries and has children he takes upon himself certain duties and responsibilities to care for the physical, emotional, spiritual, and educational needs of each one of his children as they grow up in his home. But even when his children move out the house to live on their own and even when they get married and have children of their own, a father never stops worrying about his children and continues to watch over them and help them in every way they can, even when they no longer have the legal obligation to do so. And the same is true of mothers, perhaps even more so. Therefore, the "mission" or assignment or task that each father and mother has is to watch over and care for their children's needs regardless of their age or circumstances.
The patriarch Abraham wrote, "Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born" (Abraham 3:22-23).
The rulers spoken of here are those whom God would someday call to become prophets on earth, but these assignments were made or these callings were issued long before the earth was even created. Thus, each prophet was foreordained or pre-chosen to become a prophet before they were ever born into mortality.
When Adam became the first man on earth, that didn't happen because of luck or happenstance. There wasn't a call put out to see who wanted to be the first man. Adam was carefully chosen by God to become the head of the human race because of his character. As such, Adam came to earth to fulfill a mission. He wasn't put in the garden of Eden with no plan in mind. Adam had an assignment to fulfill, a duty to perform or a task to complete and he was called to accomplish that particular mission long before the earth was created.
And the same was true of Abraham, as well as all the other prophets. Although Joseph Smith was only a fourteen year old boy when he first saw God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, Joseph had been foreordained in the councils of heaven eons ago to be the prophet that would restore the gospel of Jesus Christ. And the same could be said of Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, Paul, and all the other prophets.
The greatest prophet who had the greatest mission to accomplish was Jesus Christ Himself. The apostle Peter tells us that Jesus "was foreordained before the foundation of the world [to be the Savior], but was manifest in these last times for you" (1 Peter 1:20). In the grand council in heaven where God, our Father, presented His plan for our exaltation, He needed someone take on the assignment to be our savior, "the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me. And another answered and said: Here am I, send me. And the Lord said: I will send the first" (Abraham 3:27).
It was in that grand council in heaven when Jesus Christ was chosen and called by God, the Father, to be the Savior of mankind. Thus, when He was born on earth his mission was to live a sinless life, teach the gospel, organize His church, and perform the atonement. But His mission began long before he was born and continues long after His death and resurrection. His mission included creating the earth, watching over mankind and giving them direction through prophets whom He called.
After His death His mission consisted of organizing the preaching of the gospel in the spirit world, and after His resurrection He was assigned by the Father to visit the Nephites and other people of the lost tribes of Israel. And even today His mission continues as He watches over His church and guides it in preparation for His second coming. Thus, He has a never-ending assignment or mission to fulfill.
However, foreordination is not the same as predestination. To predestine something means that it will happen, regardless of circumstance, and God does predestine certain things. For example, it was pre-determined long before the earth was created when Jesus would be born on earth and the exact time when Jesus will return to the earth has already been likewise predetermined.
But to foreordain someone simply means they are called or asked to accept an assignment. This is no different than callings made in the LDS Church. When church assignments are made, a member of the bishopric will tell someone that the bishopric would like to call them to a certain, specific position in the Church and then asks that person if they would be willing to accept the calling. At this point the person has the right to accept or reject the offer. If they say yes, then they are set apart and it becomes their "mission" to accomplish the assignment of that particular calling.
But are prophets the only ones who have been foreordained or called to perform a mission while on earth? We can't answer that question with absolute certainty but there is every indication that each one of us came to earth with a specific assignment to accomplish.
The ancient prophet Nephi had a vision where he saw "a man among the Gentiles who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land" (1 Nephi 13:12). We believe that the man spoken of in this prophecy was Christopher Columbus yet Nephi knew of him nearly 2100 years before Columbus was born. The implication of this scripture is that Columbus was foreordained to perform his mission of discovering the American continent thousands of years before he was born. Therefore, his mission was to fulfill a necessary step in preparing the way for Christ to restore His gospel to the earth.
The Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that He "established the Constitution of this land (America), by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose." Again, the clear implication here is that the men who wrote the Constitution of the United States were foreordained to accomplish this particular task in preparation for having the gospel of Christ restored to earth.
As we have already seen that every mother and father has a natural mission from God to raise their children in truth and righteousness and in the eyes of God that mission for them is just as important as that of a prophet.
More than that, before we left our spirit home we each knew we had a mission to find an eternal partner after coming to earth and we understood the importance of having children. Therefore that was an eternally important task each of us knew we had to accomplish.
But in addition to this there are countless other missions that also need to be fulfilled. We see this more plainly in the callings we have in the church. Not everyone serves in important positions of leadership. Some are called to be teachers, while others are called to serve in the library or to help oversee the cleaning of our church buildings, or to hand out bulletins on Sunday morning. Many of these assignments may be simple and seem relatively unimportant but each is necessary in helping the overall organization to work properly and effectively.
And the same is true with life. For example, raising children may seem like an ordinary, everyday mundane task but without people bringing children into the world and teaching them to love God and obey His commandments the plan of salvation would be frustrated. And there are many other kinds of small deeds that are essential in order for the gospel to move forward.
We've talked about how prophets were foreordained to their mission on earth but we are all connected to one another and as such need to help each other to fulfill our individual assignments. This is what it means when we "sustain" someone in their calling.
Joseph Smith was chosen in our pre-mortal life to be the prophet of the restoration but if it wasn't for the teachings and guidance he received from his parents, the loyalty of his older brother Hyrum, the assistance of Oliver Cowdry, the love of his wife, Emma, the financial support of David Whitmer, and the help of many other people, Joseph would have had a much harder time in carrying out his mission. Therefore it is certain that each of these people in Joseph's life had agreed in the pre-mortal world to accept the assignment to assist Joseph in his work. And if they did then they each came to earth with their own specific mission to accomplish as their part in helping Christ restore His gospel.
Each of our modern-day prophets grew up being influenced by parents, Sunday School teachers, priesthood leaders, bishops, and stake presidents who each contributed a positive influence in preparing them to someday become the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At the time none of these teachers and church leaders realized how important their role was but each of them had received a calling and was given an assignment which amounted to their mission to help prepare a future prophet.
Some have suggested that it is up to us to discover what our mission in life is but that is a false idea. We don't need to know what our mission is. Once we have accepted an assignment in our pre-mortal life, God will see to it that we are put in the right place, at the right time, and in the right circumstance where we can successfully complete our task. Our responsibility is to be willing to be guided by God's Spirit.
For example, when he was growing up, Joseph Smith thought of himself as just a young, ordinary farm boy who was no different than anyone else. Even at the age of twenty, after having seen both the Father and the Son, been taught by the angel Moroni on numerous occasions, and was divinely translating a book written by the ancient prophet Mormon, Joseph still had no idea that he was going to someday become a living prophet of God. In fact, not one of our modern-day prophets knew ahead of time that they would one day become the living head of Christ's kingdom on earth yet that lack of knowledge didn't prevent them from fulfilling their life's mission.
In the same way, it isn't necessary for someone to know that a particular rambunctious boy in their primary class or Sunday School class is going to be a future prophet who will remember a particular lesson that had a profound effect on their spiritual growth, or that a particular shy girl will someday become the mother of a prophet and the things she will teach her children about serving God she learned from her Primary or Sunday School teacher.
But being foreordained doesn't guarantee that a person will succeed in fulfilling their duties. Once on earth not everyone strives to fulfill the mission they once had agreed to. Even though Joseph Smith was foreordained to be the prophet of the restoration, the Lord told him, "Behold, thou art Joseph, and thou was chosen to do the work of the Lord, but because of transgression, if thou are not aware thou wilt fall" (D&C 3:9).
There are a number of reasons why people fail in their missions. One is that we are born with a veil of forgetfulness that prevents us from consciously remembering our previously assigned mission. Added to this is our natural mortal tendency to be selfish where we are more concerned with serving our own needs rather than the needs of others. Then there are the temptations of the world that lure us away from following the path of our spiritual mission.
Just like we need people on earth to assist us, we also need help from the unseen world of spirits to assist us, as well as through the promptings of the Holy Ghost. But we can resist those promptings and/or choose a lifestyle that will leave us unprepared to fulfill our divinely appointed assignment. With so many ways for us to fail, how can we possibly fulfill our earthly mission?
The first way is to not be concerned with what our mission is. God knows what it is and He will do all in His considerable power to help us accomplish it. All we have to do is be susceptible to the promptings of the Spirit and we will be guided in fulfilling our assignment. The second way is to understand that our spirit remembers what that mission is and in some unconscious way it's susceptible to following the promptings of the Spirit. After all, we would not have been given a life mission in the first place if God didn't have confidence in our ability to fulfill it. Furthermore, we willingly accepted the assignment, which means we had a desire to want to do it. Therefore, there is something in us that almost yearns to fulfill our mission.
The third thing is to realize that we may have more than one mission to complete or our mission may only be to provide some assistance or help to someone else in completing their mission. Therefore we shouldn't look for some spectacular or grandiose task we're supposed to accomplish. And the fourth thing we need to understand is that there are certain skills, talents, and knowledge that are often necessary for us to acquire in order to complete our life's mission.
The scriptures tell us that we learn "line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little" (2 Nephi 28:30; Isaiah 28:10). As we gain a little bit of knowledge it becomes the building block on which we are able to gain a little more knowledge. In this way we advance, step by step, in our ability to do more and more things. Even Jesus Himself "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man" (Luke 2:52). The office of a bishop is an important spiritual calling but usually the person being called has had many years of experience in the Church that has prepared them for that position. And even while they are performing the duties of that office a bishop continues to grow in their spiritual knowledge and abilities which prepares them for even greater callings. Many people who have been called to be a stake president have previously served as a bishop. Most mission presidents have once served as stake presidents and many temple presidents have been both stake presidents and mission presidents.
As we accept callings in the Church and serve diligently in them, we grow in spiritual wisdom, talent, and skills. Thus, being a Sunday School teacher or a Primary worker, or a ward membership clerk may not be our ultimate mission in life but each of those callings are important to help train us so we can be better at accomplishing the ultimate task God has assigned us.
Those who have been called to be apostles are men who have developed great spiritual talents and as they faithfully serve in this exalted position, they are being prepared to someday take on the ultimate responsibility of being the president of the Church. Most modern-day prophets have spent forty years or more serving as a apostle, thus, their ultimate mission in life was not to become an apostle but to become God's spokesman to the world.
Although most of us will never become a prophet or an apostle or even a general authority in the Church, our ultimate mission may not even begin until later in life after we have been groomed and prepared by the Lord to successfully accomplish it. Moses was eighty years old when he began his mission and prior to that time God was preparing him for his role in leading the Israelites out of bondage, teaching them the Law of God, helping them to become a holy people, and taking them to the promised land. But regardless of how involved or simple our mission may be or when we will be required to carry it out, the important thing for us to remember is that we have a mission to perform and that whatever that mission is it is a necessary part of God's plan.